CWRU researchers start program to help young girls overcome social anxiety

Victoria Robinson, Student Affairs Reporter

While they still may be years away from attending college, this summer, CWRU researchers are hoping to support an age demographic not often seen on campus: middle school girls.

Nicole Pucci, a Ph.D student in the Child Clinical Psychology program, and Amy Przerworski, Ph.D in Clinical Psychology, will be heading up a new program, with Arin Connell, Ph.D. acting as the clinic supervisor, called Girls Link. Girls Link will encourage young girls who are shy to make new friends and feel more connected to others their age.

The objective of Girls Link is to help girls make new friends and feel more socially connected. This program is free and will take place in various libraries and community centers across the Cleveland/Akron suburbs in June and July.  After that, new locations will be announced and the program will also continue at CWRU’s psychological services department.

Girls Link is open to all females who are currently enrolled in middle school who are shy, timid or anxious.  The program will require these girls and their parents to come to six weekly meetings, and to complete six questionnaires throughout their time in the program.

“No one feels like they belong. [Middle school] is an awkward stage where you are trying to figure out how to relate to others,” Pucci said.

Both Pucci and Przerworski were anxious and introverted when they were younger, which is why they developed this program—they don’t want any other girls to feel that way.

According to Przerworski, girls often develop a new sense of wanting to fit in during this time and if a girl feels awkward in social settings, it may lead to depression.

“Early adolescence is a time in which we see a large spike in the number of females with anxiety and depression symptoms,” said Pucci.

This five session program is meant to teach shy and anxious girls between 10 and 14 years old how to handle rejection, teasing, fears, and negative feelings.  The program will also provide them with coping resources when necessary.  In order to sign up for the program, parents must call and go through a brief phone screen to determine whether the daughter is appropriate for the group.

Each girl who participates in Girls Link will be assigned to one of two groups.  Each group will have between seven and 10 girls and will allow for the girls to engage with other middle school girls in the area.

One group will focus on peer support and will increase social contacts in order to “foster friendship-building through interactive group activities” according to the Girls Link website.  The other group will be a skills group in which girls will discuss the challenges of middle school and will learn problem-solving skills that may help them to cope with stressful situations.

“We hope this program allows girls to develop new social contacts inside or outside their communities,” said Pucci.